Band On the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings

Band On the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings

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Band On the Run by Paul McCartney and WingsPaul McCartney finally hitting on all cylinders in his post-Beatles career with Band on the Run. It was his fifth such album since the 1970 breakup of the Fab Four and the third with his new group, Wings. He had made a respectable solo debut and a another good album, Ram in 1971, with his wife Linda McCartney. But then came the first two Wings album – the utterly forgettable Wild Life in late 1971, and the somewhat better but vastly uneven Red Rose Speedway in early 1973. During 1972 and 1973, McCartney was putting out much better material as non-album singles than the material on his albums. But that all changed with Band on the Run, an album which would be widely considered his finest.

The songs were all written by Paul and Linda McCartney at their Scottish retreat in the Summer of 1973. Red Rose Speedway was a commercial success and that was followed up by the Top Ten charting song “Live and Let Die” from the James Bond film of the same name. The couple also wanted to find an exotic locale to record this album and discovered that EMI had an international affiliate in Lagos, Nigeria. Coming into the project, Wings were a five person group. However, lead guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell dropped out of the band on the eve of their departure for Africa. This left Wings as a trio with guitarist and pianist Denny Laine along with the McCartneys. Paul McCartney took on the roles of the departed musicians as well as produced the album. Engineer Geoff Emerick was the fourth and final person to make the trip to Lagos.

Upon arriving however, the four discovered a militant nation with corruption and disease and a ramshackle studio which was under equipped with only one 8-track tape machine. Several incidents also plagued Wings during their time in Lagos stay. Paul and Linda were robbed at knife point while out walking one night and the thieves got away with a notebook full of handwritten lyrics and song notes, and cassettes containing demos for songs to be recorded. On another occasion a local political activist accused the group of being in Africa to exploit and steal African music and threatened to riot at the studio until McCartney who played the songs for him proving that they contained no local influence whatsoever. Paul McCartney also suffered a sudden bronchial spasm during one session which left him unconscious. Despite all of these distractions, the album did manage to get recorded on time and with limited post-production done back in London.

The album’s cover photo was shot by Clive Arrowsmith and features an expanded “band”. Along with Paul, Linda and Denny the photo includes journalist Michael Parkinson, comedian Kenny Lynch, actor James Coburn, columnist Clement Freud, actor Christopher Lee, and boxer John Conteh. While not quite as iconic as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the cover of Band on the Run has become one of the most famous in rock history.


Band On the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings
Released: December 5, 1973 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul McCartney
Recorded: Lagos, Nigeria, August–September 1973
Side One Side Two
Band On the Run
Jet
Bluebird
Mrs. Vanderbilt
Let Me Roll It
Mamunia
No Words
Helen Wheels
Picasso’s Last Wors (Drink to Me)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Band Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Piano, Drums & Percussion
Denny Laine – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Linda McCartney – Keyboards, Vocals

Although Paul McCartney had previous and future albums where he played virtually every instrument, this album is probably his most important accomplishment. Beyond stepping in at the last moment to provide the bulk of guitars and drums, McCartney also forged fine vocal melodies and chameleon–like changes in tone and inflection to fit the mood of each track. His arrangements are spectacular, especially on the mini-suites, and the productions are rich. This was also the album where McCartney first really started to develop his own style on bass and brought it up to the forefront of the mix.

The opening title song “Band On the Run” is one of the absolute classics of McCartney’s solo career. This three-part medley follows sequentially (at least among album tracks) the 4-part medley which ended Red Rose Speedway. After a complex two-minute intro, the third, acoustic-driven title part is the melodic payoff. The song strikes the balance between being experimental with unique structure yet accessible enough to make it impossible to be ignored by the pop world. McCartney credits George Harrison for coining the term “Band on the Run” during an acrimonious Apple board meeting in the Beatles’ final days.

“Jet” is a great follow-up to the fantastic opener with layers of sound, and an exploding chorus (like a jet). This rocker has great harmonies and background vocals in general and the title may have been influenced by the McCartney’s Labrador Retriever. Unlike most of the rest of the album, recorded in Nigeria, “Jet” was recorded back at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London.

The first side concludes with a couple of unique rockers. “Mrs Vanderbilt” is a driving acoustic tune with chanting vocal inflections during the verses and a great bass line throughout, which really stands out. The opening lines borrow from a catchphrase from music hall performer Charlie Chester. While recording in Lagos, the studio suffered a power outage so overdubs were later added in London. “Let Me Roll It” contains a bluesy rolling guitar riff during the verses and use of tape echo on the vocals, following a Fafsa organ and bass intro. The tune has long been considered to be an answer to John Lennon’s “How Do you Sleep?” from his 1971 album Imagine.

Paul McCartney and Wings

Side two begins with the very bright and acoustic “Mamunia” with more melodic and bouncy bass throughout. The lyrics are a bit nonsensical, more wordplay than meaning, but a cool synth lead near the end adds some variety and a new level to the sound. “No Words” is an electric song with judicious use of orchestra and sounds a lot like Harrison, vocal-wise. It jumps through several sections rapidly with differing instrumental arrangements, sounding somewhat under-developed and confused. It was the only song on the album partially credited to Denny Laine. “Helen Wheels” takes a simpler rock/pop approach with some whining vocal effect above a hook good enough to make it a hit song, peaking at #10 in the U.S. and #12 on the U.K.

“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” is another attempt at a multi-part suite, starting as an acoustic, almost Scottish folk tune and evolving through sections with clarinets, heavy strings, and even some odd percussion added by Ginger Baker, who was also recording in Nigeria at the time. The repetitive nature tilts a bit towards the infamous “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” with its repetitiveness and contains slight reprises of “Jet” and “Mrs Vanderbilt” in the mix. The album concludes with “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”, a great closer which really gets into the beat and rhythm with a vaudeville flavor. It takes some judicious breaks for vocal chorus with sustained organ before coming back to great effect and builds towards a climatic ending with heavy brass brought in to add to the tension before it finally breaks and abruptly reprises in the chorus of “Band on the Run” which fades the album out.

Band on the Run was the top-selling album of 1974 in both England and Australia and it won the Grammy for “Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Duo, Group or Chorus” in early 1975. The album was also the last time the group would be called “Paul McCartney & Wings” as they would simply be “Wings” for the duration of their existence and it was also McCartney’s final album on the Apple Records label which he started with his fellow Beatles five years earlier.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

One Way Home by The Hooters

One Way Home by The Hooters

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One Way Home by The HootersAfter two years of extensive touring in support of their first major label success, Nervous Night, the Philadelphia based group The Hooters returned to the studio to record One Way Home. Like their breakthrough predecessor, this album was co-produced by Rick Chertoff, a former executive at Columbia Records, along with the band’s primary songwriters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman. Unlike its predecessor, One Way Home was heavily folk and Americana influenced and a testament to the Hooters desire to put the music first as well as experiment with the new influences and instruments they discovered during their extensive touring.

Although there are some similarities in songwriting and instrumentation, One Way Home is a clear step forward from Nervous Night in terms of production. That 1985 is heavy with slick, pop, eighties style production while this 1987 album, although still clearly catchy pop, is closer to the Hooters’ signature rootsy mixed sound.

Along with Bazilian and Hyman, the band consisted of rhythm guitarist John Lilly, bassist Andy King, and drummer Dave Uosikkinen, who had been with the band since its inception in 1980. Uosikkinen’s distinctive drumming is the backbone of The Hooters sound as he hits those drums hard and with an intensity that keeps the sound loud and right up front.
 


One Way Home by The Hooters
Released: July, 1987 (Columbia)
Produced by: Rick Chertoff, Eric Bazilian, & Rob Hyman
Recorded: Various Locations, 1986-1987
Side One Side Two
Satellite
Karla With a ‘K’
Johnny B
Graveyard Waltz
Fightin’ On the Same Side
One Way Home
Washington’s Day
Hard Rockin Summer
Engine 999
Band Musicians
Eric Bazilian – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin, Saxophone, Harmonica
Rob Hyman – Lead vocals, Keyboards, Accordion, Melodica
John Lilly – Guitars
Andy King – Bass
David Uosikkinen – Drums

 
The album begins with “Satellite”, an example of the Hooters ability to artfully blend modern synth sounds with traditional instruments. The song was inspired by a televangelist broadcasting his message and includes some space aged synthesizer sounds. “Karla with a K” takes this one step further by making a accordion sound really hip and fresh. The song, named after a hurricane, was inspired by a street performer the band met in Louisiana.

The band also included an updated version of “Fightin’ On the Same Side” from their independent album, Amore – still upbeat but with a slower tempo and the awesome addition of accordion. “Johnny B” is a haunting song about fighting addiction with an outstanding guitar solo and harmonica accents. This song remains very popular to this day with the band’s German fans. “Hard Rockin’ Summer” was inspired by a group of “heavy metal” kids who would hang out outside the band’s rehearsal space. The title song, “One Way Home” is perhaps the best on the album. It has a heavy reggae beat, similar to the Nervous Night version of “All You Zombies”. The lyrics are dark and spiritually cryptic similar to Zombies as well.

“Washington’s Day” is akin to a campfire sing a long and is rumored to be Bob Dylan’s favorite Hooters Song. It has a hook that can get a crowd swaying in unison. “Graveyard Waltz” has the same eerie feeling as that on the earlier “Where Do the Children Go?”, as both songs deal with death, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

Although One Way Home did not enjoy the mass commercial appeal of its predecessor, it did open up the European market for the band due to the popularity of “Satellite” across the Atlantic. In fact, after the band performed the song on Britain’s Top Of the Pops in December 1987, they were privileged to meet their idol Paul McCartney. A month earlier, on Thanksgiving night 1987, The Hooters headlined a show at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, which was broadcast live on MTV and Westwood One radio network simultaneously, perhaps the absolute pinnacle of their American success. Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the fan base for the band shifted even larger in Europe, especially in Sweden and Germany, while it declined in America.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums

 

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles

The Beatles in 1967

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Buy Magical Mystery Tour

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesThere has never been (nor probably will ever be) a year in which a single band produced so much quality material as The Beatles did during the year 1967. In order to properly pay tribute, we at Classic Rock Review have put together our largest article ever. This includes extensive reviews of both the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour albums along with a look at all the rest of the band’s output from that year  which included recordings for future projects, several promotional videos, a live television special, and their third dedicated film. Unlike our normal album reviews, we look at everything in a strictly chronological order, delving into everything as it came about in sequence. This method works best because so many projects and elements overlapped during the year and only found their proper, permanent place as history unfolded.

Before diving into 1967, it is important to provide the context of the Beatles’ career in 1966. By that time the Beatles had conquered the musical world like no other rock act before, but still things were starting to unravel. There was major controversy over John Lennon‘s “more popular than Jesus” comments, causing the members to need heavy guards everywhere they went and they had nearly lost their lives in the Philippines after offending dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Further, the band was getting tired of the constant touring and frenzied fans and decided to halt touring altogether by the end of the summer of ’66. Despite putting out the brilliant album Revolver, it was under-appreciated in its day and many wondered whether the band was past its peak. All four members decided to take an extended break and decide what to do next. George Harrison took his first trip to India while Lennon starred in the major motion picture How I Won the War. On his way home from a vacation in  America, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of doing an album from the perspective of an alter-ego band.

Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesThe band reconvened at Abbey Road Studios on November 24, 1966 (Thanksgiving in the USA, but just a normal Thursday in England) to start their new album. That night they recorded one song, a simple folk song by Lennon called “Strawberry Fields Forever”. But ultimately, this song would be anything but simple as it took a total of 45 hours to record,  and this initial version of the song would not even be used. A second version was started at the end of November, this time featuring a mellotron intro by McCartney. The instrument had just been introduced to the band by Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who at the time was working at the instrument’s manufacturing factory) and “Strawberry Fields” would become the first song by a major act to use the instrument. It gave this version of the song a surreal element and atmosphere. Still, Lennon thought he could do more with the song and a third distinct version, scored by producer George Martin, including brass, strings, backwards masking, and complex rhythm section led by Ringo Starr and “about 9 or 10 other players.” When Lennon couldn’t decide if he wanted to use the second or third version of the song, the true magic took place. Martin fused the two together, even though version 3 was at a faster tempo and in a higher key, by using two tape machines varying the speed of one. The result is a production masterpiece which blazed the path for the upcoming Sgt. Pepper album.

Ironically, “Strawberry Fields Forever” would not be included on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. It  was released as a “double A” single along with McCartney’s companion piece, “Penny Lane”, at the urging of manager Brian Epstein who wanted a song on the charts. Both songs shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool and both referred to actual locations familiar to all of the Beatles. Although possessing many of the same surreal elements, “Penny Lane” is more sing-songy, like a children’s ballad. It takes a typical suburban scene and turns into something dreamier, like a parade of life. The song has a basic piano melody overlaid by several brass elements and a distinctive piccolo trumpet lead by Dave Mason, who McCartney saw perform on television and commissioned for this song. Although Martin has stated that he believes “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the greatest single ever released by the group, it peaked at #2 on the UK charts.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesSgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released: June 1, 1967 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – April 1967
Side One Side Two
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Fixing a Hole
She’s Leaving Home
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Lovely Rita
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesMagical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27, 1967 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – December 1967
Side One Side Two
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool On the Hill
Flying
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus!
Hello, Goodbye
Strawberry Fields Forever
Penny Lane
Baby You’re a Rich Man
All You Need Is Love
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Mellotron, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Mellotron, Recorder, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Tambala, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The earliest recording to actually end up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a vaudevillian number called “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which was recorded during the same sessions as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. Written by McCartney when he was only 16 (about 8 years earlier), the song includes a clarinet trio and sounds like it needs a companion, choreographed stage dance routine to go with it. It was recorded as homage to Paul’s father James McCartney, who actually had turned 64 earlier in 1966.

In early 1967, the Beatles were considering releasing a companion film with the Sgt. Pepper’s album, and recorded a lot of footage of their massive sessions for the song “A Day In the Life” in January and February. The song would be the final track on the album and its crowning jewel as it fused separate compositions by Lennon and McCartney into a singular masterpiece. It starts with Lennon’s folk ballad based on contemporary newspaper articles, accompanied by a strummed acoustic guitar, a bouncy, staccato piano, and great drum fills by Starr. After the initial recordings, Lennon felt like the song needed something more in the middle and McCartney had a short, happy-go-lucky song about his youth which was added. Unsure of how to connect the sections, 24 bars of “empty space” was left on either side of the middle section with assistant engineer Mal Evans counting out the bars on top of a simple, repeating piano. This section was later “filled in” with a building, “orgasmic” orchestral passage, conducted by McCartney and Martin, using 40 players which were later quadriple-tracked to give the effect of an orchestra of 160. The result is perhaps the best Beatles composition ever, ending with the most famous chord in rock history, a single strike played by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Martin simultaneously on four separate pianos and sustained four over a minute to finish the song and the album.
 

 
Along with “A Day In the Life”, Lennon and McCartney fully collaborated with the duet “She’s Leaving Home”, after reading a newspaper story about a young girl who’d left home and, at the time, was not again found (until many year later). With Martin unavailable to do the score, McCartney enlisted Mike Leander to do the orchestration, including a harp was played by Sheila Bromberg, who became the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record. The song would become one of the last true collaborations by Lennon and McCartney, who constantly worked together during the early years but would each maintain more solo control over future Beatles compositions.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesThe title song to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, written by McCartney, is an entertaining albeit tacky song which fits in with the overall image of the album, right down to the cover art which included a montage of of the Beatles’ “heroes” on designed by artist Peter Blake. The song itself has a strong rock presence with a super electric guitar tied together beautifully by a great rock vocal by McCartney, interspersed by many production elements including French horns and audience sounds. The song is reprised later, as a “closing” message just prior to “A Day In the Life”. The opening song segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends”, an entertaining number with a double meaning written by McCartney for Ringo Starr to sing.

McCartney also wrote several other upbeat rock songs for the album including “Lovely Rita”, a literal song about a female traffic warden featuring a piano solo by Martin and “Getting Better”, an optimistic creed featuring some excellent instrumentation. Lennon plays a distinct, choppy guitar, while Harrison adds an Indian tambura part and all Beatles sing fine harmonies throughout. “Fixing a Hole” is a more moderate pop song led by Martin’s harpsichord and Harrison’s double-tracked guitar riffs. McCartney said he wrote the song about the the fans who hung around outside his home day and night.

The Beatles in 1967

Lennon’s compositions on the album were more experimental than McCartney’s. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by a drawing that his young son made in nursery school. The song modulates between musical keys, with Lennon singing a monotone verse over an increasingly complicated underlying arrangement featuring Harrison’s tambura and a counter-melody organ played by McCartney. Although the song has long been associated with “LSD”, the Beatles firmly deny that was ever the intent in this case while openly admitting that drugs influenced other songs. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” contained lyrics which were lifted from an old poster, nearly verbatim. Musically, Lennon wanted a strong carnival atmosphere and this was accomplished by using tape loops from the Abbey Road library, several odd instruments, including a real steam organ and a big bass harmonica, influenced by the sounds on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. On the sarcastic “Good Morning Good Morning”, Lennon did a sonic version of Andy Warhol’s pop art by lifting themes and phrases from television commercials and shows and adding a sequence of animal sounds to the end, with each successive animal being capable of devouring the one before.

George Harrison with a sitarAside from the aforementioned songs excluded for a single release, the only song recorded for Sgt. Pepper’s and not included on the album was Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song”, a protest of the Beatles’ music publishing practice which gave Lennon and McCartney higher royalties to all songs by the band, even those composed by Harrison. With this exclusion, Harrison had only one composition on the album, “Within You Without You”. This song was heavily influenced by the sitar, the virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and Indian music in general. The recording featured several uncredited Indian musicians along with several more session players. Harrison was the only actual Beatle to perform on the song. This was originally written as a 30-minute piece, but was abbreviated to about 5 minutes for the album.

Although Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not released until June 1, 1967, recording had wrapped by mid April and the Beatles dove right into writing and recording new material. Some of these sessions proved fruitless, such as an Abbey Road session on May 7th, where the band “jammed” for over seven hours with little committed to tape and no new material to build on. They also spent several sessions working on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”, perhaps the weirdest song in the Beatles collection which is only really interesting because it features a saxophone part by Rolling Stone Brian Jones. This song was not released for nearly 3 years when it became the ‘B’ side for the 1970 single “Let It Be”.

Yellow Submarine soundtrackDuring this time the band also wrote and recorded the bulk of the new material for the upcoming animated film Yellow Submarine (although that soundtrack would not be released until January 1969). Along with “Only a Northern Song”, the soundtrack would include The June 1967 recordings “All Together Now”, which McCartney described as a children’s sing-along in the music hall tradition and “It’s All Too Much”, one of the few Beatles songs to be recorded in a studio outside of Abbey Road. Another song written and recorded during that time for Yellow Submarine was “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, a hybrid of two songs which makes heavy use of the clavioline, an unusual instrument. However, this last song was pushed up for release, first as the ‘B’ side to their next single “All You Need Is Love” and later included on the US version of the album Magical Mystery Tour.

“All You Need Is Love” was written specifically for a worldwide television broadcast called Our World, which was the first ever live global television broadcast on June 25, 1967, and was watched by 400 million people worldwide. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song as the United Kingdom’s contribution, requesting a song containing a simple message that could be understood by all nationalities. Lennon gladly took up the task and wrote the song in a short time with Martin arranging a live orchestra in the studio for the broadcast with the band accompanied by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor. The result is a simple anthem with the message “nothing else means anything without love”, and the leading indicator for what would be termed the “summer of love”. The single “All You Need Is Love”/”Baby You’re a Rich Man” was released on July 7, 1967 and reached the #1 position in every major country that had a pop chart.

After the live broadcast, the Beatles took much of the rest of the summer off to plan for their next project. In August, all four members of the band traveled to Bangor, Wales to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who they collectively regarded as their spiritual advisor at the time. Brian Epstein death announcementWhile in Wales, the band received the tragic news that their manager Brian Epstein had died from an accidental drug overdose. Later referred to by band members as “the fifth Beatle”, Epstein had forged the band’s image and shaped their early career through all the madness of “Beatlemania”. After the band ceased touring in 1966, Epstein’s role in the band diminished quickly and he began to display erratic behavior and developed chemical dependency. Many music historians would later pin-point this moment, the moment of Epstein’s death, as setting the ultimate course for the band’s eventual breakup.

The band returned to Abbey Road studio on August 22nd to work on material for their next project, a film and score called Magical Mystery Tour. The title came from a song the band recorded back in May, which would serve the same basic purpose as the title song for Sgt. Pepper’s – an introduction for the listener to the adventure they are about to take. This catchy tune contains good effects and production techniques. The songs key lyric, “Roll up, roll up” served the duo purpose of harkening back to the old circus barkers as well as a veiled reference to rolling up a joint. The first song written specifically for Magical Mystery Tour was “Your Mother Should Know”, serving as an old-fashioned dance segment choreographed for the film to the sounds of this song with fine organ interludes. Here McCartney sported a black carnation, different than the rest of the band, which was cited as one of the many clues in the “Paul is dead” conspiracy.

Beatles on bus 1967

The film was made in September in various English locations which were traveled to by the bus carrying the band and cast members. There was no script, as the emphasis was on the “mystery” of what would happen during the tour. Nothing much did, and the band grew increasingly frustrated by fans who began to trail the band along the way. Still, the band made some very interesting music during the fall of 1967. Included here was the cool instrumental “Flying”, featuring a dual guitar by McCartney and Harrison and a mellotron lead by Lennon. This was the only Beatles song credited to all four members of the band. “The Fool On The Hill” is a fine ballad by McCartney, written during a visit back to his father’s house in Liverpool. Lyrically, the song paints a pictures in the mind and fits in perfectly with the music, mainly performed by McCartney. Harrison’s contribution to the album is the surreal “Blue Jay Way”, with creepy, and literal Lyrics.

Lennon later admitted that “I Am the Walrus” was written during an acid trip. It was a combination of three separate songs that Lennon had been working on, with the Walrus being a reference to a Lewis Carroll poem. Lennon also intentionally wrote the most amusing lyrics he could when he was informed that a teacher at his old high school was deciphering Beatle lyrics in one of his classes and found the the whole process absurd. Musically, the song employs many of the techniques started in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with orchestral parts laid on top of a driving electric piano and some fine drumming by Starr.

Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesThe band wrote and recorded “Hello Goodbye” as their next single. Lyrically, the song derived from a songwriting demonstration that McCartney gave when he asked the participant to shout out the opposite of what he sang. Musically, it is a throwback to the mop-top pop days of the band, with some fine overdubs of electric guitar and viola. The song reprises with a coda which came about spontaneously in the studio. The single was released in late November and reached #1 in 10 countries.

Magical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967 as a six song double EP in the UK, featuring only the songs recorded specifically for the film. In the US, these songs were combined with the five songs released on singles earlier in the year – “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need is Love”, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, and “Hello, Goodbye” – in order to make a full LP, which was later adapted as the official version of the album. Although the album hasn’t received the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album is of similar quality when weighted with the quality singles. On December 26th, the Magical Mystery Tour film was screened on the BBC-1 in black and white and promptly savaged by critics, which may have soured some to the fine music of the album.

The Beatles would continue with a few more years of top quality output prior to their breakup in April 1970. However, they would not again reach the phenomenal level they achieved in 1967.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

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Nebraska by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s 1982 solo album Nebraska was an original “demo” that found unexpected life as a major label recording by a major label artist. The tracks for this sparsely-recorded album were recorded on a cassette 4-track recorder in Springsteen’s home as demos intended to be recorded with the E Street Band. The band did start recording the full-production versions of the songs in the studio but Springsteen and his engineers later decided that the “haunting folk” essence of the original demos best suited the dark themes of the compositions. So the original demos themselves were used on the album Nebraska. This was not an easy task, as the original demos were not recorded at optimal volume or with optimal noise reduction, and it was extremely difficult to transfer such recordings to vinyl, But with the help of newer mastering technologies, the finished product found the right balance of raw legitimacy and sonic competency that would ultimately become one of Springsteen’s highest regarded efforts.

According to Springsteen, he wanted to approach his next album differently by having many songs written and arranged previously, rather than working the writing process out in the studio;

I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I’m gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin’ ’em, then I’ll teach ’em to the band…”

During these same demo sessions, Springsteen recorded tracks that would be held over for his 1984 blockbuster Born In the U.S.A., including the title track, “Downbound Train”, and “Working On the Highway”. Fans have long speculated whether Springsteen’s full-band recording of the album (nicknamed “Electric Nebraska”) will ever surface, as these recordings have been held in tight confinement for 30 years.

 


Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Released: September 30, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen
Recorded: at Springsteen’s Colts Neck, NJ bedroom, January 3, 1982
Side One Side Two
Nebraska
Atlantic City
Mansion On the Hill
Johnny 99
Highway Patrolman
State Trooper
Used Cars
Open All Night
My Father’s House
Reason to Believe
Musician
Bruce Springsteen – Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Mandolin, Organ, Percussion

 

Some of the songs were inspired by left-wing historian Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States. The influence could be heard in “Mansion On the Hill”, a metaphor for the life of the wealthy that is unattainable by the working class who are locked out by the “hardened steel gates”, and “Johnny 99”, the story of a man who lost his job and then went crazy with a gun. This latter song with a nice boogie guitar has lyrics which explain the desperation of a man with debts no honest man could pay.

Nebraska got its title from a 1950s killing spree in and around Lincoln, Nebraska, by 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The opening title song contains dark lyrics, telling a story from the point of view of a murderer in a matter of fact way – not an emotional plea but simply a statement of facts. This makes the song all the more stark, bleak, and chilling in that we are always searching for reasons why people do bad things, but in this case, the criminal says there is just meanness in this world. The writing style for this track in particular was influenced by Flannery O’Connor, who Springsteen had been recently reading.

“Atlantic City” is the best track on this album (as well as its most popular). It tells the story of a young couple relocating because the young man grew tired of trying unsuccessfully to make an honest living and is taking a job with the mob in Atlantic City. It was written right around the time when the city was looking towards big-time gaming to save the city in the early eighties. Springsteen incorporated some real-life figures into this fictional song, the “chicken man” was mafia boss Philip Testa, who was killed by a bomb planted at his Philadelphia house in March 1981.
 

 
“Highway Patrolman” continues the themes of crimes and conscience in the story of brothers – one a lawman, one a criminal. The story is once again told in the first person with the lawman constantly struggling to keep his brother out of trouble and in the end letting him escape after he kills a man in a barroom fight. Musically and melodically, this is one of the most entertaining compositions on the album.

I’ve found that the songs “State Trooper” and “Open All Night”, yet more stories of desperation are linked in a way. “State Trooper” contains a guitar pattern which emulates the recurring sound of the road. The protagonist doesn’t have a license or registration, but he is driving late at night on a deserted highway just saying a prayer that his problems don’t get bigger by being stopped by a cop. “Open All Night” contains a similar beat, with the guitar a little more jangly in the fashion of of old time rock and roll. With nearly the same scenario of a guy driving alone through Jersey, but with more optimistic anticipation of seeing the girl he just recently met. The closing song “Reason To Believe”, finishes the album with a more upbeat note.

Bruce Springsteen would try to recreate the dark simplicity of Nebraska in 1995 when he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, album very similar musically and lyrically. However, it was impossible to recreate the happy accident that brought this simple casette demo, recorded in a New Jersey bedroom on a Sunday afternoon in January 1982, to the ears of millions.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

 

Marshall Crenshaw, 1982

Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall Crenshaw, 1982Marshall Crenshaw writes songs that could be described as simple, traditional pop/rock songs with a hint of Rockabilly in the tradition of Buddy Holly and early Beatles. In fact, Crenshaw got his first break playing John Lennon in the off-Broadway production of the musical Beatlemania in the 1970s. All the while, Crenshaw was writing and recording original songs. In 1981 rockabilly artist Robert Gordon recorded Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” and scored a minor hit. Encouraged, Crenshaw wrote and recorded a full length LP with a three piece band. This eponymous album was well received by critics and fellow musicians when it was released in 1982.

The album spent six months on the charts peaking at #50 and selling over 400,000 copies. These are respectable stats for a debut album, but it was hardly a blockbuster. So why is this album significant? In a sea of artists trying to be the next Michael Jackson, Crenshaw just did his thing. At that time when he was being compared to the heavily synthesized music considered cutting edge, he may have sounded a bit old fashioned, but his songs have stood up over time and still sound fresh today.

A good song can be a reflection of what the writer is thinking, feeling or experiencing . Marshall Crenshaw manages to do that perfectly on this album. The songs are not complicated, they are put together with three musicians and accentuated with overdubs. There really is a beauty in simplicity when it’s done well. The lyrics are straightforward and forthright and while there is sometimes a bit of sarcasm, they are clever and always upbeat. Crenshaw’s style was not necessarily the “next big thing” in pop music, but he created one great album filled with refreshing, smart pop tunes that stood out from the rest.
 


Marshall Crenshaw by Marshall Crenshaw
Released: April 28, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Richard Gottehrer & Marshall Crenshaw
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, January 1982
Side One Side Two
There She Goes Again
Someday, Someway
Girls
I’ll Do Anything
Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.
The Usual Thing
She Can’t Dance
Cynical Girl
Mary Anne
Soldier Of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)
Not For Me
Brand New Lover
Band Musicians
Marshall Crenshaw – Guitars, Vocals
Chis Donato – Bass | Robert Crenshaw – Drums

 
The album opens with “There She Goes Again” a melodic tune with a catchy chorus ” Will her heart ever be satisfied, there she goes again with another guy.” This is followed by the most recognized song on the album and Crenshaw’s only Top 40 hit, “Someday Someway”. Here we have another infectious melody and chorus that gets stuck in your head long after the music stops, showing how Crenshaw can craft a simple song into a pop masterpiece.
 

 
Later on the first side comes a pair of power pop tunes – “Girls, Girls Girls” and “I’ll Do Anything For You”, which are simple love songs that almost anyone can relate to. “Rockin Around In N.Y.C.” has a great rockabilly beat to help paint a euphoric scene of chasing down a dream.

There are a couple of songs here that bear an eerie resemblance to rock legend Buddy Holly. So much so that they may fool those who don’t know any better into thinking that it actually is the Crickets. The strongest of these is “Cynical Girl”, which starts out with a jangly Holly-ish melody and adds Crenshaw’s crisp, bouncy vocal settling into a steady rhythm with some cool lyrics;

“Well I hate TV, there’s gotta be somebody other than me who’s ready to write it off immediately…”

To date, Crenshaw has recorded nine more studio albums since his 1982 debut, but he has never quite reached the same level of popularity. However, several of his songs were covered through the years by many talented artists, a validation of Marshall Crenshaw’s songwriting talent.

~
Karyn Albano
 

1982 Images

 

 

Revolver by The Beatles

Revolver by The Beatles

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Revolver by The BeatlesAs many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated. To a generation of listeners raised in the digital era, this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted songwriting styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented and phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of summer 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums as the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s songwriting. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987. This was when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums, so this is the version we have reviewed.

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Revolver by The Beatles
Released: August 5, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, April-June, 1966
Side One Side Two
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
I’m Only Sleeping
Love You To
Here, There, and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said, She Said
Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One
Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows
Band Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Synths, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson, the British Labour Prime Minister, and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times. Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, molded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Beatles Got To Get You Into My Life singleMcCartney’s “Got to Get You into My Life” was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Beatles in 1966

The most groundbreaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable soundscape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

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Luck of the Draw by Bonnie RaittIt had taken nearly two decades for Bonnie Raitt to achieve the commercial success that critics had long felt she would achieve. That success came with Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, her tenth album overall. She followed this up with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw, an even more popular release which has sold close to 8 million copies in the United States alone to date. The album spawned many radio-friendly hits and introduced Raitt to a general pop audience. This is a bit ironic in that Raitt’s claim to fame had long been as an outside-the-mainstream female blues performer who uniquely played signature bottleneck slide. Although some of this legacy cascaded into Luck of the Draw, it wasn’t quite the front and center element which made this album successful.

While in college in the late 1960s, Raitt became enthralled with the blues and eventually played alongside such established blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In the Fall of 1970, a reporter from Newsweek caught her act at a nightclub in New York City and the subsequent article spawned much interest in Raitt from major recording labels. She recorded her debut album in 1971 and during the 1970s released a series of roots-influenced albums which incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. By the mid 1980s however, her sales began to slump and it appeared that her run was over when she made this dramatic commercial comeback.

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Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt
Released: June 25, 1991 (Capitol)
Produced by: Don Was & Bonnie Rait
Recorded: Ocean Way Recordings & Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, Spring 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Something to Talk About
Good Man, Good Woman
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Tangled and Dark
Come to Me
No Business
One Part Be My Lover
Not the Only One
Papa Come Quick (Jody and Chico)
Slow Ride
Luck Of the Draw
All At Once
Bonnie Raitt – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Turner Stephen Bruton – Guitars
Bruce Hornsby – Piano, Keyboards
James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Bass
Curt Bisquera – Drums

Buy Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

With Raitt taking writing credit for only four songs on Luck of the Draw, and none of these “hits”, this album was created mainly around her talent as a performer and collaborator. The down side of this method is that while it has her face and voice throughout, it is not a personal look into the artist.

“Something to Talk About” was written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who has written for Ann Murray, Emmylou Harris and Cher. The song was actually rejected by Ann Murray’s producers her own album Something to Talk About. Raitt’s guitar work on this pleasant, bouncy pop song makes it an interesting listen and a way to kickoff the album out with some sass .

The duo, “Good Man, Good Woman” with Delbert McClinton is a predictable pop song with a steady back beat accented by McClinton’s harmonica. This is followed by “I Can’t Make you Love Me”, perhaps Raitt’s biggest hit on this record. Her voice is understated while she hits all the right notes. It is the bare simplicity and honesty of her voice against the soft piano played by Bruce Hornsby that give this song it’s universal appeal. How much more honest can lyrics be, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” – a simple truth to which almost any listener can relate. The remainder of the album’s “hits” – “Slow Ride” and “Not the Only One” – are also pop songs that may have been hits performed by other artists, but find a happy home in this collection.

The songs that Raitt wrote herself include “Tangled and Dark”, a jazzy song with a cool sax interlude and “Come to Me”, which is drenched in Caribbean rhythms and gutsy lyrics like “I ain’t looking for a man Baby can’t stand a little shaky ground/He’ll give me fire and tenderness/And got the guts to stick around. The most insightful and heartfelt performance is the album’s closer, “All At Once”, which offers a glimpse into the difficulties of a family going through a divorce. The anger and confusion of trying to come to terms with damaged relationships penned in lyrics such as “Looks to me there’s lots more broken than anyone can really see/Why the angels turn their backs on some is just a mystery to me.”

Record companies had been trying to make a superstar out of Bonnie Raitt for years. They did not achieve success until they started capitalizing on her assets – her expressive vocals and her guitar skills while using collaborators in pursuit of commercial success. The resulting album drops Bonnie Raitt the folksy blues singer guitar player into a pillow of pop perfection.

~

1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

1986 Album of the Year

Back In the High Life
by Steve Winwood

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1986 Album of the Year

Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood Steve Winwood is an artist who has had two major phases of his professional career. Starting as a teenager with the Spencer Davis Group, he was thrust into the international spotlight with a pair of mega-hits “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man”. This kicked off the first phase of his career playing and fronting several progressive rock bands including Blind Faith and, more prominently, Traffic throughout the late sixties and early seventies.

Then, in the 1980s, Winwood came back with the second phase of his career which was more distinctly pop and blue-eyed soul. He scored some minor hits from the albums Arc of a Diver in 1980 and Talking Back to the Night in 1982. These albums set the stage for the most successful album of his career – 1986’s Back In the High Life. Here, Winwood took some of the styles and methods that he had developed on the previous two albums and brought it to a whole new level.

The album achieves that elusive goal of combining great songs that will stand the test of time while also catering to the commercial appeal of the day. As we mentioned earlier in other reviews, this was no easy task in 1986 when the prevailing pop “sound” was at a nadir. Winwood and co-producer Russ Titelman sacrificed nothing here. The entire album managed to encompass the sounds of the eighties, as it uses its share of synthesizers and modern fonts without sounding dated. This was achieved by counter-balancing the “80’s” sounds with some traditional instruments, styles and Winwood’s distinctive and emotive vocals. There is also excellent songwriting, with most songs co-written by Winwood and Will Jennings and all including some cool lyrics and catchy melodies.

1986 is the third year overall that this new 2011 enterprise called Classic Rock Review has examined, the first two were 1971 and 1981. It may seem like we choose these years at random, there is a method to our madness as we choose to review years with significant anniversaries (that is anniversaries divisible by ‘5’), and it is the 25th anniversary of the music of 1986. With each of these review years, we choose an Album of the Year to review last, and for 1986 that album is Back In the High Life.

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Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood
Released: July, 1986 (Island)
Produced by: Russ Titelman & Steve Winwood
Recorded: Unique Recording & The Power Station, New York, Netherturkdonic Studio, Gloucestershire, England, Fall 1985-Spring 1986
Side One Side Two
Higher Love
Take It As It Comes
Freedom Overspill
Back In the High Life Again
The Finer Things
Wake Me Up On Judgment Day
Split Decision
My Love’s Leavin’
Primary Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Keyboards, Synths, Lead Vocals
Phillipe Saisse – Bass
Jimmy Brawlower – Drums & Percussion

For a pop-oriented album, Back In the High Life is unique. Each of its eight tracks exceed five minutes in length which is something not seen much outside of prog rock, art rock, or dance tracks. This may be a further testament to the thought and effort put into these compositions. The album also contains some cameo appearances by popular contemporaries, diversely spread throughout.

The album kicks off with the song which would become Winwood’s only #1 hit of his long career, “Higher Love”. This nicely sets the pace for what we’ll expect from the rest of the album – Caribbean rhythms with synth, horns, funky bass, and the distinctive, upper-range vocals. This song is awash in good feelings; “Let me feel that love come over you…”, almost a gospel-like song, and it features soul star Chaka Kahn singing high background harmonies.

On the other end, the album concludes with a couple of interesting songs with very different co-writers. “Split Decision” was co-written by the legendary Joe Walsh and begins with a distinctive, crunchy riff from Walsh and then smoothly works towards a more Winwood-centric riff with organ and reggae beat in the verse and a soul-influenced chorus. The lyric is another take on the influences of good and evil on a person;

“One man puts the fire out, the other lights the fuse…”

“My Love’s Leavin'” was co-written by British eccentric artist Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and contains stark soundscapes which are ethereal and haunting, about facing reality and singing of hope and faith in the face of a loss.

Steve Winwood

“Freedom Overspill” contains some rewarding instrumentation with an edgy, whining guitar providing some of the best licks on the album above a masterful arrangement of synths, organ, horns, and rhythm. It is very funky and very eighties, but somehow it is not a caricature. The lyrics paint a picture of a couple up all night hashing out their differences – “Coffee and tears the whole night through/Burning up on midnight oil/And it’s come right back on you”.

“The Finer Things” was another radio hit from the album, with its misty opening, bouncing, Police-like rhythms, and lots of changes throughout. The song rolls along like the river, at some points calm and serene while at others rough and tumbling rapids. This metaphor is explicit in the lyrics;

“So time is a river rolling into nowhere, I will live while I can I will have my ever after…” 

“Wake Me Up On Judgment Day” is a song about wanting to avoid struggle – to get to the good stuff without all of the pitfalls – “Give me life where nothing fails, not a dream in a wishing well”. The song kicks in like a sunrise, the burst of light then explodes from the dawn. Ironically, this song talks of “horns” but actual “horns” are used sparingly with a heavy bass line and much percussion.

But the single element that makes Back In the High Life a truly great album is the title song “Back In the High Life Again”. According to co-writer Jennings, the song was one that Winwood seemed to have little interest in developing when recording began on the album. Until one winter day Winwood returned to his mansion after his divorce to find everything gone except for a mandolin in the corner of the living room. Jennings said, “He went over and picked up the mandolin, and he already had the words in his head, and that’s when he wrote the melody.” The recording of this song for the album includes a lead mandolin along several other ethnic instruments such as acoustic guitar, accordion, bagpipes, and marching drums, with guest James Taylor on backing vocals. This is all as a backdrop for the excellent vocal melody by Winwood, which portrays the feeling of hope and optimism.

The song was later covered by Warren Zevon, whose bare-bones, emotional delivery has an entirely different mood from Winwood’s original release, mournful and melancholy, almost satirical. This despite the fact that Zevon did not change the key or melody for his recording. Perhaps the truest test for a quality song is when it can have several interpretations and “faces”, depending on its delivery, and “Back In the High Life Again” is truly a great song.

Back In the High Life was the final album Winwood would do for Island Records, a label he had been with for 21 years at the time of the album’s released in July, 1986. Despite this longevity, Winwood was still relatively young at 38 and he would go on to do more interesting things in the subsequent years; signing with Virgin Records and producing a few more hit albums in the late eighties, reuniting the band Traffic in nineties, and most recently working with former Blind Faith band mate Eric Clapton, with whom he toured in 2011.

More on Steve Winwood

~

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

Strong Persuader by Robert Cray

Strong Persuader by Robert Cray

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Strong Persuader by Robert CrayThe 1980’s music scene is best remembered by most people as a time when synthesized sounds ruled the radio waves and the glitzy MTV videos of hair bands and rap and hip hop artists were all the rage. In this unlikely era of technology driven pop, Robert Cray helped rein in the appreciation of a new generation for the blues. Some have criticized his blend of blues, soul and rock as a homogenization of the blues but his contemporary style was easily accessible and entertaining to a wide audience. His Gammy winning 1986 release Strong Persuader is credited with helping the Blues find new life as it spawned a top-five hit with “Smoking Gun”, with a video also shared frequent MTV screen time with the likes of A-ha and The Pet Shop Boys.

Perhaps Robert Cray’s brand of electric blues might be the result of his diverse background. Though he was born in Columbus, GA, he was an “army brat” and was raised all over the country. He started playing guitar in his early teens while living in Newport News, VA and cites blues legend Albert Collins as a major influence. Later, he would collaborate with Collins on his album Showdown!, which won a Grammy itself in 1987. Cray also lists guitar greats George Harrison, Eric Clapton and B.B. King as some of his early influences.

His third major label release, Strong Persuader remains one of his best albums to date. The songs all revolve around a common blues theme of love gone wrong. While he may not possess a technically perfect voice, Cray is a superb vocalist, delivering precisely the right emotion whether it be specific levels of sincerity, sarcasm, or cynicism. The sound of the album is simple, crisp, and clean and never muddled. It is modern electric blues featuring Memphis horns, steady bass and drums, and Cray’s signature, attack-heavy guitar style with no wasted notes.

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Strong Persuader by Robert Cray
Released: November, 1986 (Mercury)
Produced by: Bruce Bromberg & Dennis Walker
Recorded: Sage & Sound, Los Angeles, 1986
Side One Side Two
Smoking Gun
I Guess I Showed Her
Right Next Door (Because of Me)
Nothin’ But a Woman
Still Around
More Than I Can Stand
Foul Play
I Wonder
Fantasized
New Blood
Primary Musicians
Robert Cray – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Peter Boe – Keyboards
Richard Cousins – Bass
Wayne Jackson – Trumpet, Trombone
David Olson – Drums

For how sanitized the may album sound, at its core Strong Persuader is really quite racy. This dichotomy is best portrayed on the song “Fantasized”, which contains some rather risque lyrics above an nonthreatening basic, soft-rock music track. If fact, “Strong Persuader” became a nickname for Cray himself due his skills at convincing young women as portrayed in the popular song “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” where he brags about his conquest being “just another notch on my guitar”.

The album’s opener, “Smoking Gun”, is perhaps Cray’s most popular song ever, accented by Peter Boe’s signature piano riff and a fine, “slow hand” guitar solo. The following song “I Guess I Showed Her” takes another musical direction, with a nice blend of cool jazz and funk, highlighted by the brass of Wayne Jackson with some ironic/comedic lyrics. Later in the album, Cray settles in to more traditional, guitar-driven blues and nearly-crooning vocals on songs like “I Wonder” and “New Blood”.

Throughout the rest of album, the songs vary with different combinations of these three styles, all held together by the consistent production of Bruce Bromberg & Dennis Walker. some of the highlights include the catchy and melodic “More Than I Can Stand” and the excellent “I Wonder”, with its totally unique solo technique which at one point seems to use alternate tuning and at another almost sounds like a banjo, and the cool lyric – “…Is this a dream or has Bob gone crazy?”

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame just last month (May 2011), Robert Cray gave us an interesting and entertaining album a quarter of a century ago, which remains one of his most popular. Since Strong Persuader, Cray has released 11 studio albums but none have been as popular as this 1986 tour-de-force.

~

Robert Cray online

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Live Review of Robert Cray Band
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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

Pearl by Janis Joplin

Pearl by Janis Joplin

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Pearl by Janis JoplinPearl was the final, posthumous album in the brief but explosive career of Janis Joplin. She died before the album’s completion on October 4, 1970, at just 27, done in by an overdose of heroin. Janis lived hard and died young.

An awkward girl from Beaumont, Texas, she would make her mark in a time and place that must have seemed like another universe – San Francisco in the late 1960s. She was fearless in the sense that she never let the shallow opinions of her adolescent peers define her and she found her place making her mark in unapologetic, unyielding fashion.

But this radical transformation ultimately came at a tragic price, as chemical dependency grabbed hold of her and refused to let go. It’s not that she didn’t try to escape this fate, even going so far as to move back to Beaumont and adopt the fashionable bee-hive hairdo of the day. But in the end, she just couldn’t stay away from the scene, the lifestyle, the drugs, and the music.

“You can go all around the world trying to do something with your life, but you only got to do one thing well…”

Janis’s style was rough, raw, and completely genuine. She didn’t have an image manufactured by a team of publicists, and would not have done well in an American Idol-like situation. She lived in the moment with every note she sang, deeply entrenched in the emotions that effervesced from every strained vocal.
 

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Pearl by Janis Joplin
Released: January 11, 1971 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles between September 5 and October 1, 1971
Side One Side Two
Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues
My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can
Primary Musicians
Janis Joplin – Vocals
John Till – Electric Guitar
Bobby Womack – Acoustic Guitar
Ken Pearson – Organ
Richard Bell – Piano
Brad Campbell – Bass
Clark Pierson – Drums, Vocals

Pearl has a more polished and accessible sound than anything Joplin had done earlier with Big Brother & the Holding Company or The Kozmic Blues Band, the original bands she worked with in San Francisco with limited success on the national and international scene.

The sound of the album was due in large part to the expertise of Paul A. Rothchild, who had shaped the sound of The Doors as their long time producer. Further, The Full Tilt Boogie, a profession group of backing musicians, shaped the sound that was the canvas for Janis’ dynamic vocals. Joplin had previously met and worked with the band over the summer of 1970, when they were on board the famous Festival Express, a train filled with performing and partying musicians that rode across Canada.

Janis Joplin

Aside from the Kris Kristofferson penned hit “Me and Bobby McGee”, there is really nothing special about the selections on this album. But, they are entertaining enough to make Pearl the crown jewel in the catalog of this rare talent. Most of the songs are standard rock and blues with a bit of country influence here and there. This is immediately apparent on the first two tracks, “Move Over”, which Joplin wrote herself, and the quasi-famous “Cry baby”. But there are also a few oddities on the album, like the a capella “Mercedes Benz” and the purely instrumental “Buried Alive in the Blues”, which was included despite the fact that Janis died before recording the vocals.

“I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for one single yesterday…”

Kristofferson had just introduced his song to Joplin just a few weeks before her death, and wasn’t even aware that she had actually recorded it until afterwards. Ironically, it would be her biggest hit and most famous song, true fame that she wasn’t able to experience during the shooting star trajectory of her life.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.